Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

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Myth #5: People Change and Grow to Want Different Things

This post is part of a series in response to an article about reasons not to be afraid of a divorce. The bolded first sentence/statement are the words from the author in the linked article. The following comments are my opinions in response. Read the introduction to this series of posts here first.

Previous Posts in this Series:
Myth #1: Divorce Pain is Temporary
Myth #2: Society Says Divorce is Bad
Myth #3: Miserable and Married
Myth #4: Forever is a Long Freaking Time


 

Myth #5: People change and grow, they want different things.

What exactly is the purpose of marriage? If the purpose of marriage is happiness and pleasure, then the growth people find will be oriented towards other things that make them happy or fill them with pleasure. If it’s to grow the goodness of each other, regardless of the circumstance, then this growth will be found together, not apart.

Several years ago I wrote about marriage being like a garden. That’s the image I want to draw from as we talk about changing and growing. When we change and grow, we increase our abilities to enjoy and withstand whatever life throws at us. The same is true for a plant in a garden. We have to take special care of it once planted, and over the course of it’s early life, we water, weed, and feed the plant to ensure it’s growth. In doing so, the gardener grows in knowledge and experience as the plant grows.

Marriage is not intended to be another green house for personal growth that leads to a second transplanting in yet another garden. This has already happened once in life in our childhood homes. We are raised, grown, and matured and then we leave home to go make a life for ourselves. Too often couples mistakenly relate to the marriage in the same way they did to their childhood home. The narrative is pretty common: I feel limited by him/her; They don’t love me the way I need/want to be loved; and I’m not the person I want to be in this home. There are many other statements that I could list, but hopefully you get the gist of what I’m saying.

When our marriages begin to fail, it is entirely too easy to revert back to adolescent tendencies that lead us towards wanting to get out. The problem is that these tendencies we felt as teenagers are legit responses to a natural relational patter in our childhood homes. We are not meant to live at home under our parents care forever (nor would most parents want this). We are meant to be raised until we are ready to leave home and go make a life for ourselves.

People do change and grow after they leave home, and if they are not growing, something else is wrong. But in the context of changing and growing in marriage to the point of “wanting different things” as the myth states, it again raises the issue of what we think the purpose of marriage is. Every couple needs to define what their purposes are together. Companionship is often stated when I poll couples about their purpose, but I think marriage needs a more transcendent purpose than this. Marriage offers the possibility of safety, growth, and a place to return when all other aspects of life seem to be going all wrong.

We have a pretty large vegitable and fruit garden in our back yard. It’s fenced and has raised beds to promote growth. I want you to think about that fence and garden beds as the structure of marriage. The fence isn’t intended to be there to limit the growth of what’s inside, rather it’s there to prevent the dangers of what is outside.

Growth happens in the context of love, and in this instance, the fence is a symbol of love to the tomato, squash, strawberry, and green bean plants that reside inside. If I were to take a green bean plant outside the fence, and plant it in the middle of the yard a couple things would happen. If the rabbits didn’t eat it first, the deer would. And if those two didn’t find it before Saturday, my lawn mower would end it’s story. Be mindful of where you are finding life outside your marriage that does not seed growth inside your marriage.

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Myth #1: Divorce Pain is Temporary

This post is part of a series in response to an article about reasons not to be afraid of a divorce. The bolded first sentence/statement are the words from the author in the linked article. The following comments are my opinions in response. Read the introduction to this series of posts here first.

Myth #1 – ”Divorce pain is temporary.

Temporary pain means that whatever causes the pain wasn’t that significant to begin with. We make pain temporary by escaping and numbing ourselves. Ultimately the pain resulting from a divorce does not just affect the couple, it affects an entire community.

Marriages are an essential building block of how our communities were formed. Yet we are increasingly viewing marriage like it’s shopping mall. When we don’t get the desired product, we return it, go to another store and get different one. Disposable relationships cannot hold love for long, thus they cannot hold pain for long either. Find me someone who has lost a child that says the pain is no longer there. It’s just not true. Marriage has been reduced to a pursuit of happiness, which creates an untenable position: ‘If you don’t make me happy, someone else will.’

Marriage is an unseen fabric that binds our homes, restaurants, businesses, and community together. Without the marriage fabric there would be a chaotic “free-for-all,” making every man, woman, and child available for whatever pursuit the moment called for. Marriage provides the safety and protection for a community. By staying, loving, and committing to my marriage, I am allowing and asking for you to do the same.


Typically, a marriage happens before friends and family allowing for new friendships to be forged. If that marriage ends, it fractures these relationships. It’s like two cities that have been connected by a bridge. When that bridge is destroyed, so too are the comings and goings of those cities. My people stay my people, and the same for you and your people.

Unfortunately, as divorce has become more common, the strength of our communities has deteriorated, thus leading to more divorce. I rarely hear a couple talk about what is best for “us”, instead most talk about what is best for me, and what I’m not getting. The pervasive idea is this: “I deserve to be happy. I want what I want when I want it. To hell with anyone, including my spouse, who stands in my way.”

The pain in life is temporary because we want it to be. Divorce is no different. We humans are pretty adept at finding ways to escape from our pain. Very few people actually travel the road of healing by facing the pain they feel. This reality is true for all aspects of life, not just marriage. It’s why relapse rates for addictions are so high. The more we escape pain the more entrenched we become in our habits.

Like a piece of candy, pleasure is short lived and always leaves the consumer desiring more. If the pain of a divorce is short lived, it’s because the orientation of the marriage was towards immediate gratification. We wouldn’t marry if self-gratification delivered the goodness of life we all desire.

Marriages will never thrive if happiness is the sole purpose of the relationship. The hope of marriage is that my spouse will be as oriented towards love as I am. If we can join together in that love, the pain of ending that hope would deter pursuits of divorce, not encourage it.

Next Up — Myth #2: “Society says divorce is bad, that may not be true.”

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Debunking the Myths of Divorce

Several weeks ago I ran across this article from Cherilynn Veland, a clinical social worker, giving women 15 reasons why not to be afraid of divorce. The author takes what she considers cultural myths, and debunks them to give women support in their divorce process. In some ways, I understand where she’s coming from. Historically women have not been treated as equals to men, and this has caused much pain, especially in the context of marriage.

This much is true: Our culture, and we’re not the first, objectifies women. Turn on the TV and within a couple of minutes the message is loud and clear: Women are sex objects. This creates an incredible tension to speak up and have a voice because boobs, legs, and vaginas don’t have voices. Seeing women as subjects, not objects, is not something we men are very good at doing. We tend to try and fix (often times fixing is relational violence), which presupposes that we have the answers, and that she, the woman, is broken and needs our fixing.

The institution of marriage is a subset of the larger culture. Great harm has been done to women in the name of religion, gender norms, and cultural values. These realities are not spoken to in Ms. Veland’s article, which I think is a massive oversight. Advice is often easy to give when we give little to no consideration to the cultural contexts.

As I was reading the article, I was struck by two things. First, nestled right next to the article is a visual advertisement for a TV show titled: “A Girlfriends Guide to a Divorce.” It pictures a woman, clearly happy and/or excited, holding up her left hand ring finger (clearly a middle-finger to marriage) with the caption, “go find yourself.” The message is clear: Marriage is holding you back from being who you’re supposed to be, so “screw” (PG version) marriage.

The second thing I noticed was how shallow the advice was from the author. I began working on counterpoints to her 15 reasons of why divorce doesn’t have to be scary. I work with a lot of people struggling to make a decision on their marriage. I am unabashedly pro-marriage (which will clearly come through over the forthcoming dozen-plus posts), but of equal importance I am am pro-growth.

Ultimately I believe the the greatest opportunity for growth in our lives comes through the conflicts we share with our spouse. Most marriages work really hard to avoid conflicts, which inevitably leads to failure because couples develop no strength to handle difficulties together. I see so many men and women doubling down on follow-up relationships after a divorce only to find out that their problems have followed them.

My hope in writing these rebuttals to the above article is to promote opportunities for growth in the context of marriage, especially if there are children involved. Even with an in depth understanding of the effects from divorce on children and society, people will still choose to divorce. Perhaps something written over the next several weeks might provide a glimmer of hope to a marriage in crisis. These are my opinions largely formed and influenced over the past 10+ years in my work with individuals and couples surrounding issues like marriage, sexuality, addictions, and divorce.

Myth #1 – Divorce pain is temporary.
Myth #2 – 
Society says divorce is bad, that may not be true.
Myth #3 – Miserable and Married
Myth #4 – Forever is a Long Freaking Time

Note: This series will be published regularly over the next several months, so if you want to follow, make sure you subscribe (top right side of page) to receive notification when the next article is posted. 

 

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Are you Hopeless in Marriage?

Most people who have not done significant spiritual or relational work do not know how to do conflict well. Invariably, we will unconsciously adapt our conflict styles to what we were exposed to in our childhood homes. The saying “the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree” is true here, how are we to know a different way of being without the help of someone else to show us another place?

Marriage provides the context for taking another person to another place. It offers hope that I can live alongside someone who will help me to become a better person, and I can do the same for them. The reality is that once the newness wears off (which happens at different rates of time for different people), couples often lose sight of the purpose of marriage.

I often hear, “I just want to be happy and live in peace” when asking people what they desire in their marriages. Generally this is in reaction to the growing disconnect and conflict that exists between husband and wife. However, when you don’t do the necessary maintenance and work, It decays and begins to break down. This is true of the material world just as it is for relationships.

Cleaning up and fixing something that has been neglected for a long time takes more energy and effort than the time it would have taken to maintain. In relationships, if you do not spend the time proactively working and engaging the faulty issues in your marriage, when it comes time to “fix it” or “buy a new one”, it’s going to feel overwhelming.

This overwhelming feeling coupled with the already everyday needs and demands of life make it even more difficult to find the courage, energy, and hope to dig out of the mess. If you’re at this place of hopelessness in your marriage, seek out a counselor. If you’re afraid you’re on the road to hopelessness, here are some suggestions to work on:

Do go on regular dates with your spouse.
Do monthly budget meetings to review and plan financial concerns and needs
Do yearly/bi-yearly marriage enrichment activities (counseling, retreats, books, etc)
Do not turn on the ’screen’ (tv, phone, computer/tablet) at least 2 nights per week
Do not blame your spouse for anything, ever. Take responsibility for your actions.
Do not use the word divorce unless you are filing.
Do not have an affair with work, alcohol, Facebook, video games, food, or the TV.
Do practice non-sexual touch without it leading to sex.
Do not hide behind your kids activities to avoid conflict.
Do not use your kids to fulfill your loneliness.

No relationship is beyond repair. I have seen couples dealing with multiple layers of betrayal, lies, and brokenness work diligently on repairing their relationship. When you married your spouse, they became the right one, don’t buy into the lie that there is someone better out there for you. If you’re willing to do the hard work, your hopelessness can be healed.

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4 Things Women Need to Know About Their Husbands Porn Use

Men often seek help in dealing with their porn use, yet many times their wives do not seek their own help. Though the issue with porn is not a new problem, the access with technology has made it so much more available in it’s different mediums. Here are the 4 things women need to know about their husbands porn use:

1. It’s not about the wife.

In young marriages, women need to know that their husbands porn use is almost always something they brought with them into marriage. It’s less about the wife “not being enough” and more about the man’s inability to have an intimate and close relationships with a women. Porn use is easy because it requires nothing from a man beyond what his body is naturally programmed to do.

It is hard for men to develop a healthy view of women that is apart from the notion that women are sex objects. Over and over again the modern culture tells both sexes that women are sex objects. It’s why so many men are unable to have close relationships with their daughters as they go through puberty — it’s difficult to see a woman as anything other than an object. Porn distorts the reality of a woman’s value.

2. Porn use is about shame.

Shame is certainly felt by the use of porn, but I think shame is the real reason that porn is used. Shame says “I’m not enough” which can easily be felt sexually and non-sexually alike. In this reality, women need to know that though the use of porn is unacceptable, their husbands, as a man in a broken and faulty world, are acceptable and good enough. If a wife catches her spouse using porn and condemns both the act and the man himself, this will lead to more problems. Hate the act, not the person.

Shame doesn’t last very long in an environment with grace and empathy. But here’s the problem: Wives often can’t give the gift of grace and empathy to their husbands because of their own stories. These young women have been sexually abused (to varying degrees) and they have their own wounded sexuality. Without doing her own work of recovery and healing, she will not be able to offer empathy and acceptance because the husbands use of porn will always make him like “all the others who have harmed me.”

3. Having more sex can cause more harm.

This is a delicate topic as withholding sex can be harmful just as the use of porn is. Some errant advice given to wives of porn addicts is that they need to make themselves more available sexually and this will keep the husband from acting-out. This is almost always harmful advice because it invites the fantasy life of porn into the marriage bed.

Women do not need to be more sexual for their husband to keep him from fulfilling his needs elsewhere, this can be enabling an addiction. Most would not want the affair partner in their marriage bed with them, but this is exactly what the advice to “become more sexual for him” is doing. It’s bringing a fractured sense of intimacy into a sacred space meant to be shared by husband and wife.

There needs to be hard work and conversations about the harm that porn has caused in a relationship before sex can be trusted as an expression of love and commitment. This does not mean that couples need to stop having sex altogether if porn is present, rather that the purposes of sex be talked about, perhaps with a professionals help, to establish healthy boundaries. Taking this one step further; limitations in sex need never to be used as a form of punishment or control.

4. Porn use is cheating.

Though men are resistant in accepting this, porn use is an affair. It is taking the most trusted and vulnerable act that a couple can share together, and giving it to someone else. Yes, it’s a “one-way” relationship as the images provide no relational feedback, but it is still taking the sexual embrace outside of the marriage bed.

All affairs are a result of a breakdown of trust and intimacy. Affairs are a passive “screw you” stance to the spouse. Instead of working out the issues of the relationship in the context of the relationship, fulfillment of sexual needs are being done outside the context of the relationship.

It’ll be helpful in dealing with these issues to seek the guidance of a counselor or pastor. It’s not an easy topic to address, but it’s not impossible to heal from. Be patient, take your time, and work hard to find reconciliation.

For some statistics about porn, click here for a 2014 report: http://www.covenanteyes.com/pornstats/

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Four Conversations to Visit Regularly

My wife, Stephanie, and I just celebrated our 12th anniversary. Some days it feels as though we’ve been married for decades, and there are still times that I look at her and wonder who she is and what she’s doing in my life. I often think that I hardly know her. During our first few years of marriage, we spent regular time asking each other important questions about life. It was part of the rhythm that we adopted to learn more about each other.

Just this past holiday season on a family trip out West, Stephanie and I spent a few hours asking and answering questions about each other during our drive (we got a “road trip” kit that provided activities for the kids and the adults alike). It was a refreshing exercise to get us back into discussing some parts about each other that have not be regular conversations we have.

Like that infamous “new car smell”, the newness and excitement in marriage can easily wear off. Without an intentional approach to pursuing the other person, couples will grow distant. As I look back on our 12 years together, there are four conversations and questions that regularly surface for us: Sex; Money; Dreams/Desires; and Love language. These are excellent and challenging topics to keep couples connected and engaged in each others lives.

Sex
Outside of the bedroom, and not always in a romantically inclined situation, ask and talk to your spouse about your sex life together. Too often we express sexual needs only in the moment, and not proactively. This is a challenging topic because there is often so much shame associated with sex. Where there is shame, there is hiding. The goal here is to first and foremost be an proactive participant in your sexual relationship. Secondly, conversing will slowly and methodically bring sex to the table as a comfortable and unashamed topic. Doing this requires that sex not be a topic that is only expressed, it also must be discussed. Talk about needs, wants, and desires. Talk about what is comfortable for you, and what isn’t. Set boundaries, and respect each others’ needs in this area.

Money
Not only is money one of the most divisive topics in marriage, but it’s also the most difficult aspects of life to handle. Money puts a spotlight on our drive and passion, desires, habits, and what we find most important. Money is tangible evidence of where our values are aimed. Spending regular time to discuss money will help to weed out the potential traps that come when money gets scarce. These conversations can take place in the form of a monthly or bi-weekly budget meeting (which I highly recommend), or they can be conversations about what to do with a windfall, if you win the lottery, or what you want to save your money for. Regardless of how you talk about it, talk about money at least once a month.

Dreams, hopes, desires
In a similar light to money, discuss the passions you have for life. Explore old childhood memories of wanting to be a pilot, astronaut, or dancer. It’s easy to get caught up in the mundane aspects of life and forget to spend time dreaming about the future. If we do not talk about what our goals and dreams are, we will become bored and numb-out to life. Everyone has a dream, the questions is will you risk going for it. These conversations are both exploratory and accountability with your spouse. Name your dreams to each other, set goals, and help each other.

Here’s a way to do this: Take a couple of hours together one night and do the following: Get 2 poster boards from the school supply section at the store, get some magazines (as a side note, play the game “what are they getting ready to say” as you flip through the magazine and see people’s picture). Go home and spend an hour putting together a “dream board.” Cut and paste pictures, words, and ideas from the magazines onto the poster board that represent things that you want to accomplish in the next 5-10 years. After each of you are done with this, talk about your board with the other person.

How do you feel loved
Occasionally, 2-3 times per year, on our weekly date I will ask Stephanie how she has felt loved by me lately. It’s a simple question that invites her to share with me aspects of her life that feel meaningful to me. One of my goals as a husband is for my wife to know through experience that I love and care for her. I don’t want to rely on my words as the evidence of this, rather I want her to have tangible experiences she can remember.

This question also serves as an opportunity for Stephanie to share some areas where she wants me to improve. Rarely have we gotten into a fight after these conversations because I’m ready for the feedback and critique when I ask this question. I don’t ask this when I’m not able to hear her responses.

These four conversations topics can be setup in such a way that every month you follow a similar routine. Perhaps take one of these topics per week, and make it a regular part of your lives together. Don’t let the routine of Facebook, TV, sporting events, or other ways of checking out stand in the way of growing closer together with your spouse.

(article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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5 Virtues of Marriage

Looking back over the past year is one of my favorite traditions. I get to remember the ups and downs, the growth that occurred, and see what themes continually show up. This is the first year that I’ve applied this to my professional life, probably because it’s the first full year I’ve had as a private practician (previously having split my time in a non-profit agency). In looking back over the past year, I’ve seen an emphasis on 5 different virtues about marriage.


1. Choosing marriage is choosing to give up control of your life.
I cannot emphasize this virtue any stronger: Marriage will cost you your life. If you value your own authority, singleness, or ego more than that of others, do not get married. Choosing marriage will require you to give up control of your life. You will make decisions that will affect at least two people (more later when you have kids), and this is a very difficult change from that of a single life. It might be the best gift ever given to a single person, and it’s the costliest.In a very real way, marriage is much like salvation. In accepting God’s plan and will for your life, you are setting aside your own to be submissive his his plan. This means that you’re an active participant in his plan, but your life is not about your happiness. Marriage is about giving up of ones life for the sake of the other, which translates to a giving up of control.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for another” (John 15:13).

“You complete me,” might be one of the most famous lines in the movie Jerry Maguire, and it might be the most misleading. Marriage will offer you the unique and unparalleled opportunity to grow. Marriage will not fill you, rather it  will make you more aware of your emptiness and need for God, and only God. Unfortunately there is no real way that Hollywood can show more than an infatuated love. So we don’t get a real picture as to what mature, longstanding love looks like. Instead we get a glimpse of the joy and warm fuzzy love that we all want to have. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s not a lasting version of love.

2. Couples that protect pain from happening are preventing intimacy (connections) from developing.
Its no secret that people don’t like pain. It’s also no secret that being in a close relationship is an inevitable date with pain. The challenge is viewing pain as though it is a gift, not the plague. Pain is not fun, but neither is numbness. I don’t know about you, but when I leave the dentist after getting a shot of Novocain, I cannot wait for it to wear off. The feeling of not controlling half of my face is miserable (not to mention the inability to know when I’m drooling). We were not made to be numb, we were made to feel.

The poet Mary Oliver penned this line, and it speaks well to the realities couples face: “I was once given a box full of darkness, it took me many years to realize that this too was a gift.” Pain shapes our lives either in our acceptance of it or our refusal to experience it. Creating a space for pain to be a welcomed guest in your marriage will serve you well. This is the task of every marriage: To create and develop a philosophy of dealing with pain. You will raise the next generation of people based on how you and your spouse engage each other in times of pain.

3. Marriage is a muscle: Use it or lose it.
Marriage takes work, and will not naturally grow on it’s own. It takes consistent time and energy much like your muscles. If you were to sit all day every day for a year, you would notice a significant amount of atrophy in your body. Your inability to function after that year of sitting would likely take you a more painful and greater amount of recovery to return to your previous abilities (if ever at all). Once you have lost muscle mass, it is very difficult to get it back.

Your months and years of dating and courtship are very much like a daily trip to the gym. You’re exercising the muscles of the relationship that cause it to grow. When you get married, continue your visits to the gym (literally and metaphorically). Read books together, attend marriage workshops, go on dates, spend intentional time together, take trips. Do all of these things regularly and your marriage will not atrophy.

4. One plus one equals three: Becoming one, requires two.
One of the more nuanced challenges of marriage is to become one together, but remain distinctly individual in the process. It will take both husband and wife bringing 100% each to the marriage to make the relationship work. This is not a 50-50% proposition, it’s a 100-100% arrangement. Only bringing 50% of yourself to the table means you’re not being fully you in the relationship.

When a husband or wife begin to lose their individuality, marriage problems will soon follow. Being an individual is not the same as being single, rather it’s being an individual who maintains their autonomy while being 100% committed to the growth and health of the other person for the sake of the marriage. M. Scott Peck in his bestselling book, The Road Less Travelled, said that Love is to tend to the spiritual and emotional growth in another person. This is the goal of marriage, to tend to and care for the spiritual and emotional health in our spouse. We have the best chance of doing this when we are operating out of our fully unique and individual lives.

5. Marriage is Redemptive.
I know no other way to describe marriage more simply than it’s capacity to enact redemption in life. This comes in unimaginable ways as past wounds, hurts, fears, and resentments are all confronted with the woman of our dreams. Surrendering ones life to another is hard, yes, but it is also glorious. I believe this is the hope that beckons us to get married in the first place. We might not know this is what we are signing up for, but the spirit in us all moves us towards a need for being saved from ourselves. Marriage offers us just that: An opportunity to be saved from ourselves.

(This article was originally published at StartMarriageRight.com)

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Q&A About Marriage

Last week I participated as a virtual panelist on a Facebook page for an organization where I’m a contributing writer. This discussion was posted as a Question (below) and then was commented on by myself and the “fans” of the Facebook page. It was a really good discussion, and I wanted to share my responses (which were separate comments, so they don’t necessarily read as a article would) to the questions asked of me. Here they are in no particular order. Chime in if you have additions to these questions.

 

What does it mean to be “one flesh” in marriage?

– For one, it means to put aside living life for oneself for the sake of the other. You cannot thrive in your marriage if you are in it for you. It just won’t work. Becoming one flesh is a lifelong process that will cost you your life, which is why not many marriages make it “till death.” The death of the relationship is far easier than the death of oneself.

– Another way is that it means that together, we create new life. A relationship is the first child of a marriage. It’s birthed the day you meet, and takes the same care and attention that a baby would need. Becoming one flesh means that I bring all of myself and combine it with all of you, creating a wholly new life, a relationship.

– A word of caution about this idea of “one flesh.” When we marry, it’s very easy to “lose oneself” in the context of an intimate relationship. It’s somewhat of a paradox, but it takes two people being fully who God created them to be for a marriage to thrive. By becoming one flesh, we are doing away with selfish ideas, and replacing them with “soul-fish” ideas. Our soul is the place God resides, and that place needs to be protected and offered to the marriage as a gift.

– Sex, the sexual embrace, is far more encompassing than just the physical act. The act of being “one flesh” is celebrated, not created, by the sexual union.

 

What if I get annoyed with my spouse and don’t want to be around him/her?

– There are a couple of ways to look at this. One, to be annoyed could mean that you wouldn’t do “x” the way your spouse does “x”. This might mean that you’re not annoyed, rather you don’t like being out of control or that someone does something different than you. Another way to look at it is that your spouse’s behavior is a coverup for you feeling cramped, trapped, or “shut in.”

– What does the word “annoyed” mean to you? Does it stir up a stronger emotion? My wife has many “isms” about her that have been annoying to me in the past. Most of the time though, I’m not annoyed, I’m feeling something else: Resentment, anger, hurt, lonely, etc. Annoyed, frustrated, disappointed, and some other commonly used words are often vague cover-ups for what’s really going on inside us.

– Also, It’s not uncommon to feel trapped early in marriage, and if we’re not being honest about this, we will find ways to express this trapped feeling. Enter things that annoy us about the other person. It’s not really that they annoy us, but that they are in our space and we don’t know how to live in that space with them.

– If the way you address the annoyance is with an angry or spiteful, sarcastic, or critical spirit, more than likely you were feeling anger and not annoyed.

 

What do we do if family and friends don’t agree with our engagement? 

– Assuming that your family and friends are looking out for your best interest (they love you) then I’d encourage you to give serious consideration to what they have to say. Ask them questions and explore why they don’t agree with your engagement. Is it a moral issue, an opinion, a “sixth sense”? Again, assuming that they love you, ask them to let you know if there are red flags, or just yellow ones. Some other questions to consider: Do they see something in him/her they don’t like, is it a matter of how you’re being treated by your fiance, and what is their solution to their concerns?

– I agree that prayer is a much needed part of this process. And, I would say that the insight your friends and family have to you is unique and needs to be considered. Obviously this is a difficult thing to do when you’re clearly wanting to marry someone, and your family/friends are opposed.

– There are plenty of family systems that do not want their children to “fly the coop.” If this is your family, kindly thank them for their concern and advice, and move along.

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Making Black and White, Grey

 

Over the past few months, I’ve heard and read a lot about the bestselling book series “50 Shades of Grey.” This series is permeating so many different levels of cultural conversations: From sports talk radio, to morning talk shows, to social conversations, to “Shades of Grey” themed parties. One point is salient with all this: America are depressed. Due to our depression, we are not easily aroused from this numbed state of being. It’s taking more and more to wake us up, and 50 Shades of Grey is doing just that to a lot of people.

I have not read the book(s), but I get why they are popular. Twenty years ago, Fabio graced the covers of many romantic novels, which presented the fantasy of a man so tender, soft, and loving, yet beautiful, strong, and safe. He was the symbol of comfort, safety, and the lush fantasy of how to please a woman. Today, Fabio is dead and in his place is the hard, chiseled, and dominant fantasy of Christian Grey (the male character in the trilogy). In discussing this book with those that have read it, I get the sense that what’s so erotic about the series is the BDSM nature of the books sexual encounters (for those unfamiliar, BDSM stands for Bondage, Domination, Sadism, Masochism).

Gone is the day that Fabio rules the bedroom with his long flowing hair, and emotionally charged conversations and walks with the maiden. The prevailing notion behind these books is that women ultimately want to be dominated and controlled. Taken into the bedroom, a world of overt sexual fantasies is constructed and exploited to the nth degree. The author has taken the nature and need of safety in relationships and turned it into sexual dominance.

The problem with this book (which represents an entire genre of literature) is that it’s mentally and emotionally pornographic. The main audience is women, which is normally the case for erotic/romantic based literature. And as is the case with so many other books/stories like this (The Twilight series being another example, though less erotically driven), the heroine is a shell of a person. She typically has little to no personality, an absence of curiosity or uniqueness, and is represented as the ‘flatlined’ character. All of these traits allow the reader to project themselves into the character as though they are the main character. This is not a new insight, or original thought, but the reader gets to feel what the character feels. The reader imprints their unique story into a story that’s written, and let the fantasy take them away.

It’s a brilliant way to write because it hooks the reader in so quickly, and immerses them so deeply into the story.Porn and fantasy are both hollow and shallow in nature and require more and more exposure to satisfy. One book isn’t enough, there must be three. After experiencing so many highs (emotionally and physically) in the reading of a book like this, the reader wants more. The next logical step is to take the fantasy into real life.

The main consumer of pornography is men, and the main consumer of emotionally driven romance novels (emotional porn) is women. The convergence of these two realities are happening in our neighborhoods, and are having a devastating effect on marriages and families. There is no risk, no fear, and no rejection in pornographic material.

My advice to anyone considering reading these novels: Don’t. It might provide a brief respite from the doldrums of life, but eventually the fantasy will wear off and will result in a deeper pain that will now include one’s sexuality. You can’t unlearn fantasy scenes. Research has shown that sexual experiences produce oxytocin, a naturally produced chemical in your body which works to emotionally bond two people together. When these experiences are had in the context of visual or emotional porn, your bonding chemicals get released to fictitious people and characters. It’s difficult to detach from those images and ideals when facing real-life issues.

If you’re feeling depressed about life, sexual issues, or your marriage or relationship, a fantasy novel won’t help.  Americans are quite adept at numbing our feelings through substances, entertainment, or relationships. These novels provide a secret way to escape the trappings of reality, but ultimately will end up leading the reader into a deeper and more desperate way of life.

 

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Some thoughts to end the week

Answering the why questions in life will rarely be satisfying. The awareness you’ll gain will be invaluable if you choose to use it.

We humans judge actions, not intent.

Hiding will prevent relationships from developing intimacy. You cannot have intimacy and hide at the same time.

“Don’t put your trust in walls, ‘Cause walls will only crush you when they fall.” 

I can’t change the way you feel, nor can you change the way I feel. We can work together to learn where and how we feel what we do, and then learn to walk with care and love around those soft and tender spots in life. You cannot carry all of my pain, so don’t try and make life pain free for me or you. It doesn’t work.

Ending well is really difficult, takes time, and allows  for new growth. Quitting is accepting the easy road that is full of regret, self-pity, and will not bring fullness. You’ve got to fight hard for the things you want, and don’t want.

Don’t wait for permission from others to be vulnerable and take a risk; it will never happen. Taking a risk is risky regardless of who approves of it or not. Think of it this way, base jumping isn’t easier because you got a high five.

Babies fall 10,000 times before they learn to walk. Falling hurts, but not being able to walk hurts worse.

The phrase “be a man” needs to be replaced with “tell the truth.” Learning to tell the truth is a process, and judging a process kills progress. Telling the truth is risky. Most of us don’t do it very well. We hint, dance, assume, manipulate, hover, and do all sorts of so many things that take incredible amounts of energy. More energy to hint and dance around a subject than just saying what’s true.

Learning how to be mature is a lifelong journey. It’s a process. It doesn’t happen when you graduate high-school. Have sex. Have a baby. Or when you get a job. Maturity happens when you admit to not knowing, and commit to the process of learning. Not knowing oneself is the deepest of sadness, but not pursuing the knowledge of oneself is the greatest crime against the self. You cannot know what you do not pursue. You cannot know what you do not care about. You cannot know what you do not love.

Conservative, safe, and highly controlled living is not the way we were created to live. This is a difficult reality in the South. It’s hard to not fake it here.

Christianity is a religion. Much like Buddhism, Mormanism, and Footballism. Being a follower of Christ is not religious. There’s a difference.

Refusing to address your dysfunctional behavior and relationships (and your family’s dysfunction) will create incredibly difficulties tomorrow. It will also have a stronger affect on others than you think it will. And on more people than you think.

Happyness (I prefer to spell it with a y) is found in being known by others, God, and ourselves. Want to be happy and fulfilled? Spend some time getting to know you. You’re smarter, brighter, wiser, and more interesting than you know. Don’t live without knowing who’s alive in there.